Re-evaluating public spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic
We explore ideas about public space amidst COVID-19, from the absence of public space to the potential for temporary changes to underpin more permanent strategies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on various different facets of our lives. From a planning and urban design perspective, the outbreak has changed our use of, and our behaviour in, public space – from physical and social distancing to staying at home or even leaving the city altogether.
Researchers in urban design at James Cook University – Associate Professor Lisa Law and Dr Simona Azzali – in collaboration with Dr Sheila Conejos, the Head of the Facilities & Events Management Programme at the School of Science and Technology in the Singapore University of Social Sciences, explored the different perspectives on public space amidst the COVID-19 pandemic as well as how COVID-19 presents opportunities to create long-term changes for a more liveable, economically viable and resilient public space.
For example, from the inception of the pandemic, stadiums and parking areas were converted into recovery facilities, while hotels were converted into shelters for returned travellers and the homeless. What’s more, tape as become an innovative tool, especially in Singapore, to create preferred ways of occupying public space in COVID-19-induced urbanism.
Dr Azzali says, “Temporary tactics can be leveraged to test solutions on a smaller scale and, if successful, extend them to other parts of the city. They can be used as inspirations for developing new ideas that can lead to new forms of urbanism.”
In several countries, governments are exploring options for how to pursue a “green recovery”, such as corporate stimulus packages tied to climate-change mitigation. These kinds of opportunities provide a means to “bounce forward” in more resilient ways – reconnecting economies to ecologies in the built environment.
Meanwhile in Milan, the city was hit particularly hard by the coronavirus and has been transforming temporary measures into longer-term active transport planning. Prior to the outbreak, the city had worked diligently to reduce car use without success. However, under the lockdown, traffic congestion eased. Worried about resurgent car use as residents return to work, city officials devised an ambitious plan to transform 35 kilometres of streets to enlarge cycling and walking space.
COVID-19 has also unveiled underlying living and working conditions in society. In Singapore, for example, early successes in managing COVID-19 were later derailed by transmission in 80 per cent of migrant worker dormitories – which were overcrowded, poorly ventilated and had insufficient sanitary facilities. By exposing such conditions, we can embrace opportunities for improvement.
As we wait for a vaccine, we must pay attention to the next phases of governance surrounding the temporary measures implemented during COVID-19, in order to generate support for lasting, permanent change.
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